The next fruit I present to you is the mata kuching, literally, cat’s eye. It’s about the size of a quarter, with a thin peel that covers a juicy greyish meat that covers a hard shiny dark brown seed. The fruit is sweet with a musky, almost salty aftertaste. They are inexpensive in season. They’re selling for 3-4 ringgit a kilo, or less than 50 cents a pound.
They are often called longans here, which led me on a little internet hunt. The longan is Dimocarpus longan (previously known as Euphoria longans), and is the premier export fruit of Thailand. However, according to the Purdue Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, the longan does not fruit in Malaysia. Now, that’s odd, because I’ve seen them growing at Ming Kiong Gardens near my son’s preschool, hanging heavy with fruit. The answer is provided by Prof. Wong Kai Choo of the Univeristy Putra Malaysia. (Formerly Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, the Malaysian Agricultural University. They recently changed their name; a sensible move, since as everyone knows, having anything to do with soil automatically lowers your social status by about three pegs. Ahem.)
He explains that the mata kuching is a particular variety of a subspecies of a relative of the subtropical longan. In Borneo, there may be dozens of identifiable races within this variety, the best of which are in Sarawak. All right! These races are categorized into three groups. And the group of races that bear the fruit I’m eating is likely the ‘kakus’ group, the only group that has brown fruit when ripe. Wow. Dimocarpus longan ssp. malesianus var. malesianus r. kakus. A race of a group of a variety of a subspecies of the longan! Thank you, Prof. Wong Kai Choo. But then, he takes a break from his scholarly language to note that the mata kuching “is hardly worth eating”. Well, who are you gonna believe, me or a professor of crop science with a specialty in Malaysian tropical fruit? Don’t answer that.